Running in the hallways is never allowed in schools. Running in place, though, along with jumping, spinning, and following all the other directions of the new sensory pathway in a hallway at Orange-Ulster BOCES Emanuel Axelrod Center in Goshen is encouraged. An outer space-themed sensory pathway was designed and installed by Orange-Ulster BOCES staff for use by students in the building’s special education programs.
The sensory pathway is a series of directions to perform focused, physical tasks in a purposeful way along a highly-engaging hallway. The pathway engages students’ senses by instructing them to perform a series of guided movements as they work their way along the path to burn off excess energy and develop gross motor skills like balance and spatial awareness.
The project is the result of the coordinated efforts among professionals in various OU BOCES divisions including special education, communications, operations and maintenance and even includes an element of student inspiration. The initial proposal for the pathway was made by elementary special education teacher Desirae Gugel and occupational therapist Tracy Gleason. They expressed a clear purpose to the project and presented its necessity to program administrators.
“For so many of our students, sitting in a chair in a classroom can be a challenge,” Gugel said. “Then, add in all the sensory input from overhead lights, noise, talking, etc. and students are on overload. And, that overload can cause students to respond with undesired behaviors. The pathway allows students to take a structured break to release energy, allowing them to return to class and focus on learning.”
Sensory pathways such as the one designed and installed are built on a solid research basis.
“Sensory pathways improve sensory awareness, focus, endurance and the development of proprioception (awareness of where their body is in space) and promote communication between the right and left hemispheres of the brain,” said Gleason. “From an occupational therapist’s perspective, literally, every child can benefit from this in one way or another.”
Louis Peterson, graphic design technician in the print shop operated by OU BOCES’s communications department, is a hobby illustrator. Once a theme was decided and Gleason provided information about what students should be directed to do at each station, Peterson got to work outlining a design. Then, incorporating the space aliens designed by Omar AlQaisi, a 16-year old student in the STRIVE program from Middletown, Peterson and his team began printing the large stickers which would be applied to the floor.
The bright, engaging and fun design has caught the attention of students and adults alike, some of whom can’t seem to resist hopping from one element to another or spinning in place while making their way down the hallway. Some even go out of their way to travel the hallway which houses the path. Despite the high traffic, the well-worn path is sure not to wear out with operations and maintenance staff having applied five
coats of protective wax over the stickers.
“The project is emblematic of all that happens here at Orange-Ulster BOCES,” said Dr. James Higgins, Director of Special and Alternative Education. “Our staff who work directly with students recognizes an opportunity to create something to benefit our children and the rest of the organization lends their talents to bring that idea to life. We’re grateful to have the kinds of partners in our other divisions here who share our commitment to our students … if it’s for our kids it seems the answer to ‘can you help us?’ is always ‘yes’.”
OU BOCES student helps design aliens for sensory path
The space aliens in the outer space-themed sensory pathway recently installed in a hallway at Orange-Ulster BOCES Emanuel Axelrod Center were inspired by Omar AlQaisi, a 16-year-old student in the STRIVE program from Middletown.
Omar’s love of drawing, coloring and creating has been a means of self-expression as well as a way to self-regulate. He uses his drawings to start conversations with others - adults and peers. His drawings often take on his own emotions and this is a medium that allows him to identify feelings in himself and others.
Omar started working on the aliens the same way he begins all of his artwork, with sketches in pencil. Louis Peterson, a graphic design technician in the print shop operated by OU BOCES’s communications department, used the sketches to create the space aliens that were printed as large stickers applied to the floor.
Omar takes great pride in his work - when he views the work he helped create for the Sensory Pathway, he
proudly proclaims, “I did these!”
Omar is inspired by his favorite Nickelodeon shows – “Jimmy Neutron”, “Tough Puppy”, and “SpongeBob
Omar follows a very specific process when creating his artwork:
- First, he sketches everything in pencil (no models, this is from his vision)
- Next, he will take to the internet and research the characters he has sketched and the colors used to bring these characters to life.
- He then selects the colors he is going to use - this is an incredibly precise and detailed part of his process.
- He then meticulously brings his drawings to life applying his color selections by hand.
- Finally, he will use clear packaging tape to carefully preserve his work.